Regrets over wasted chances

Weekender

Paul Domi Minga who now lives outside Port Moresby, has written a series of eight short stories and hopes to find a publisher to publish them in book form. He says the tales, all based on personal life experiences, could be enjoyed by secondary school students or young adults. This is an abridged version of one the eight stories.

By PAUL MINGA
THERE is power in writing. I say this because I have seen the fruits of writing with my hand simple letters from old exercise book pages in the early nineties.
As a non-school leaver I managed to receive five scholarships all through hand written letters.
My English might not have been good and fluent but what I had expressed on a paper may have convinced the hearts of scholarship officers.
I received five scholarships as a single student not through bribery, nepotism or offering of gifts; it was through plain letters.
My letters were riddled with common grammatical errors, mixed-up tenses and other mistakes common in letters by any other PNG Grade 10 school leaver. But maybe the message and ideas that I tried to convey were plain and clear.
I simply expressed my wishes on a clean exercise book page with a pen as it had been the case in those times where computers and typing facilities were not of easy access.
What I expressed may have been of convincing to the Office of Higher Education.
One may think that for a single student to receive more than one scholarship is mission impossible but that was exactly what happened to me.
From my experience, I could say that a person who is keen on writing letters is more likely to find a job or a scholarship.
I graduated with a year 10 certificate from Fatima High (now secondary) School in Jiwaka.
My four years high school had ended in 1991. What had been worrying was my Upper Pass mark in English which made selectors overlook me for a placing in one of the tertiary institutions in the country.
My anxious wait for the arrival of a scholarship offer letter during the 1991 Christmas holiday ended in dismay. The letter I was eagerly expecting through our local postal address did not arrive.
From stories I received, two of my school mates have got their scholarship offer letters already and were preparing for their departure to their higher institutions. I came to realise that I was not selected due to my poor English mark.
It wasn`t the end of everything and my life but an awkward situation I had gone through as a school leaver. Although there were other options available for failures as the College of Distance Education (CODE) and vocational studies, I didn`t have the desire to enroll after missing out on a scholarship opportunity after Grade 10.

College of Distance Education
After two of village life, I made a U-turn in leaving behind all negative thoughts and what I was doing and got enrolled at CODE. That was purposely to upgrade my low mark in English. But I considered external studies as a waste of time when I had thought of my high school mates who were already ahead into their second year of studies or have completed their tertiary studies.
I felt shy and uncomfortable but since there was no option available I knew that was the only way out for me.
With a new certificate with three credit marks in Science, Social Science, English and a distinction in Mathematics, I had confidence that I would earn a space in one of the colleges. All the applications that I had posted away were all written in a similar fashion.
I applied using the copies of my original Grade 10 certificate, as well as my new CODE certificate.
The patient wait for the arrival of a scholarship offer letter from the OHE took me into Christmas 1993.
Usually, the arrival of offer letters arrived towards the end of December and the first weeks of January of the new year. I had high hopes for an offer of a scholarship as I had sent away many applications.
The patient wait ended one afternoon with the breaking of the much awaited news from a messenger. I was told that there were several of my mail in the possession of our local catechist and I had to pick them up from him.
My heart and whole being jumped for joy the very moment I got the anticipated news. I stopped what I was doing and walked down the road to the catechist’s home.
While walking along the road to pick up my letters, I tried as much as I could to hid my joy as people would think that I was crazy.
With eagerness I reached the catechist home and called out for him from the road and he responded and said, “Paul, come over and get your mail.” I walked over with a broad smile while my heart was beating rapidly inside as I went near the house.
The catechist came out of his house with a handful of letters and glances at every one of them to identify mine from the others. He then handed out to me three envelopes which was a surprise.
As mail were confidential, the local preacher didn`t ask me any questions to find out something about the three letters. I thanked him and left for my house the happiest man on earth that evening.
My heart was beating furiously, I was very curious to see the contents of the three envelopes. I rushed home to be able to read the letters before night fall.
In the first letter, there was a blue paper and a number of white papers stapled together.
I found out that the blue paper was a travel voucher while the white papers were the acceptance letter, course information, school fees breakup, and other relevant information. The letter was an offer letter for me to take up a three-year Diploma in Primary School Teaching course at St Benedict`s Teachers College in Wewak, East Sepik.
I then opened the second envelope and it was another scholarship letter for a one-year electrical course at the Mount Hagen Technical College. The third letter stated that I had been selected to study at Popondetta Agricultural College for a two year Certificate in Tropical Agriculture.
I felt at the top of the world after having gone through the contents of the three letters. It was a rare case in PNG for a non-school leaver to obtain more than one scholarship at once.
It took me a few days to make up my mind and I opted to go for the teaching course at Kaindi.
The desire to get a feel of the first plane trip lured me into making a choice for an institution that would be reached by air.
The two travel vouchers that were enclosed gave me confidence and I need not to worry but simply to produce a form of an ID at the airline office to obtain my plane ticket.

Cheating to share scholarships
As I did not want to waste another scholarship and its benefit in a plane ticket, I decided to give the extra offer away to someone to utilise it.
But before that, I needed to ask young men who were school leavers from my village if any of them had the desire to go for studies.
That is so that I could give away my other two extra scholarships to be utilised. Of about five year 10 school leavers from my own tribe that I approached, who were all married young men, two agreed to go for studies.
But before I could give away my two extra scholarships, the plane ticket to Popondetta had to be collected by me and therefore I needed to identify myself to collect it.
What added to the fear in my mind had been stories of the latest computers having human minds with which they could easily detect illegal or unlawful acts.
I made up a plan to produce an ID and collect my ticket a few days earlier and to collect another a while later.
For the other plane ticket that I needed to pick up for one of my tribesmen who was to pose as me in using my extra scholarship, I needed to do it right.
It was on a cold misty morning, sometimes in the first week of January, 1994. I left home in Jiwaka for the Mt Hagen Air Niugini office to obtain the ticket for travel to Popondetta after I had got mine to Wewak a few days earlier.
The moment I entered the ticketing office to make a claim for my second plane ticket, I felt sweat running down my body. My hands and legs began to shiver as I joined the queue inside the ticketing office.
I felt as a person in a serious trouble. Finally, my turn came and I went up to the counter, pretending that nothing was wrong with me but my heart was pounding and beating heavily inside me. That instant the mood I was in was as that of a criminal coming face to face with an armed cop.
I was greeted by one of the ticketing officers who cross-checked my name against the list of Popondetta Agriculture College 1994 intakes.
What I had provided as an ID corresponded with the name on the student list. I then was issued an airline ticket without much questioning.
I gave a school leaver from my tribe the scholarship for studies at Popondetta Agricultural College.
The offer from Mt Hagen Technical College, I gave to one of my uncles who was from a different clan.
Departure time arrived and I flew off to Wewak. I got enrolled and completed the first semester of studies but into the first few week of the second semester, I was not fully committed to studies and left for no good reason and travelled back home.
After having an unfruitful village life several years after quitting my studies, I thought of going back for studies. But that seemed to be mission impossible as I had to redo what I had done years back as a non-school leaver.
The potential of drafting hand-written application was still in me but recent education reforms made by the Department of Education stood in the way.
Grade 10 graduates were no longer accepted into tertiary studies.
That reform ruled me out; I realised that I would never again secure a scholarship with my year 10 certificate.

Another chance to go to Kaindi
I decided to use a Grade 12 certificate and was fortunate to have a copy of one belonging to a brilliant student who was from the same village. He had graduated several years back from a university and was already in the workforce.
I used the copies of his certificate including his other documents in applying was offered a scholarship to take up studies at St Benedict’s Teachers College a second time.
The 2004 academic year started and I arrived at Kaindi pretending that I was a new comer to the place but in fact I had been there about a decade earlier.
I still don’t know what it was but the same sense of laziness that made me quit from that same college a decade ago embraced me again and I walked out of the college.
I reapplied as a non-school leaver again and got the fifth scholarship at Port Moresby Technical College in 2005 but I studied for only a few months and quit in the same manner.
As an individual, I managed to get a total of five scholarships through my letter writing. But I had taken those opportunities for fun and never made full and good use of one of them in obtaining a qualification.
Now as an adult, I’m regretful of my stupidity and laziness.
I can’t rewind my life journey as the opportunities and privileges have all gone and can’t do very much.
I’m only crying over the spilt milk.

Leave a Reply